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Once a hotel, The Sieber, has opened for upscale housing

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This two-building complex, fronting the west side of the 1300 block of Hudson Avenue, again offers apartments to discerning people looking for above-average, urban Oklahoma City accommodations.

'SOMETHING DIFFERENT'  
COMING BACK

Certainly, that was a goal of Robert and Nora Sieber, who built a two-story brick building on the block's north half to house their grocery store and home in 1924. Four years later, they built the six-story Sieber Hotel next door and made the south wing of its top floor their new home.

Today, the two buildings together offer 38 residential units, ranging from single bedroom units offering about 800 square feet to two bedroom units offering about 1,500 square feet. Another 4,400 square feet is available for commercial development.

The buildings began taking in tenants at the end of October 2008. Most of the residential space is leased. The building owners, a partnership of five people led by Marva Ellard, are still working on developing the project's commercial space.

'SOMETHING DIFFERENT'  
Jeff McBride, 24, a second-year University of Oklahoma medical student, discovered The Sieber by taking part in a Move Up Downtown Living Tour, led by Downtown OKC Inc., a year ago.

Already a downtown resident living in residential loft space in a former office building, McBride admits he didn't expect to see anything that would catch his eye.

But the hotel's exterior, he said, has attractive lines, while its apartments boast features he lacked at his other place, such as hardwood floors. The fact that the hotel and building next door are on the National Register of Historic Places also appealed to him.

"I just kind of wanted to experience something different," McBride said, sitting in the one-bedroom studio apartment he's called home since November.

To him, the location is great " he's only a few minutes from his classes at the OU Health Sciences Center " and he also enjoys nearby eating establishments and ambience provided by Heritage Hills and Mesta Park. Out of his fourth-floor apartment's windows, he can see the medical center complex about a mile away.

"It is not the downtown skyline, but it is the part I am more connected with. Sometimes, when I am studying, I can look out and see the hospitals, and it reminds me of what I am doing," McBride said. "To me, this is more upscale than where I was living before. It feels nicer."

COMING BACK
The Sieber operated as an apartment and a hotel until the Sieber family sold the building in 1971. Often, its units provided a temporary home away from home for people who had come to the city to be with loved ones who were hospitalized for one ailment or another at St. Anthony or Mercy hospitals.

During the '70s, the property continued to operate as a hotel. A group of oil-backed investors bought the property in the early '80s, but couldn't complete renovation plans before Penn Square Bank failed. A restaurant called The Woods continued to operate on the street level of the hotel until the early '80s.

Once it closed, the building sat empty until friends suggested Ellard look at it in 1997. By then, the property was part of a bankruptcy case, and she picked the property up in an auction.

Then, using a $4 million mortgage, a $1.5 million no-interest loan from Oklahoma City's Murrah Revitalization District Revolving Loan Program and $3.2 million in historic tax credits, Ellard and her partners undertook the long job to rehabilitate the buildings.

"Getting it open was a long time in coming," she said.

But the project, she said, is "very significant," given that it met historic preservation requirements set out by the federal government's Department of the Interior and National Park Service.

"We tried to do it right as a historic building, while offering people the opportunity to live in some relatively high-end, market rate housing," Ellard said. "We spent a lot of time, effort and money on that, and I hope it is encouraging more housing in this part of town."

Russell Claus, Oklahoma City's planning director, is intimately familiar with the project " he used to administer the city's Murrah recovery program. He and Urban Renewal Authority officials toured the project in early April.

The finished project, he said, is impressive because it makes good use of space, provides diverse options for potential residents and uses its public spaces creatively.

"It is not run-of-the-mill," Claus said. "I'm pretty impressed."  "Jack Money

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